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In the market for a mattress?
Variations in materials and layering affect the comfort – and price
If you are looking for a pocket guide that will help you get the best night's sleep you've ever had, you won't find one.
Mattress buying is more complex than that. There is your body to consider: Do you have lower back pain? Sleep apnea? Night sweats? Then the best thing for you might be to shop for certain features like firmness; adjustable heads or feet; and specialty foams versus innersprings that offer a cooler sleep.
The best surface is purely subjective, said Dr. Clete Kushida, director of the Stanford University Center for Human Sleep Research, in Consumer Reports.
Lying on a bed in the showroom helps, but only so much. Before you do anything, ask about a comfort guarantee. If your back is complaining after week or so, you might want to swap your new mattress for something more suitable.
Note that a comfort guarantee is different than a manufacturer's warranty that covers workmanship. Make sure the company you buy from provides a solution to your comfort needs. And you can void the manufacturer's warranty by removing that tag that says "do not remove." Keep it on.
If price is your primary consideration, shopping gets complicated. It's confusing to comparison shop in the mattress industry. Even though some mattress brands are made by the same manufacturers, each retail outlet is allowed to stamp its own brand on the product, making it close to impossible to compare.
The best way to look at what you're getting for your money is to peel back the layers. Forget the pretty brocade cover and look at a mattress from the inside out. Each layer adds up in terms of cost and comfort.
Jeremy Solis, director of operations for Custom Comfort in Orange, says virtually every mattress manufacturer in the United States buys their coils from the same company in the Midwest.
The way to compare coils is to count them per unit. If you doubt their importance, consider what kind of sleep you get on very few coils, like on a sofa bed.
The gauge of the wire provides the soft or firm foundation. A lighter gauge makes a soft bed, while a higher gauge is used for firm.
Also ask how the edge of the coils are finished, since you'll be sitting on them to tie your shoes in the morning.
Soft or firm?
Ask yourself if you want a bed that is firm or soft on the surface, or firm or soft to the core. There is a difference, because after considering the springiness of the coils — everything else is an add-on.
While we watched Custom Comfort Mattress company manufacture mattresses in their plant, Solis said that after coils, almost anything you could call quality and comfort comes in the upholstery layers. And there are many on a premium mattress.
The price you pay for a mattress depends not only on where these layers stop — each one adding something to the comfort equation — but also what they're made of. Natural products like cotton, wool and latex cost more and last longer than synthetic materials, such as polyester and polyurethane foam.
Be sure the mattress you buy is flippable — don't fall for a one-sided mattress.
"Buying a one-sided mattress is like buying only a half a mattress," Solis said. One-sided mattresses wear out quicker, and when you've worn a groove, buying another is your only option. A well-made two-sided mattress can last 10-15 years.
Since layers add up and premium mattresses are very heavy, some mattress companies will flip the mattress for you. Ask if this service is available.
After coils, take a look at what comes next. Protective layers should prevent the cushy parts of the mattress from penetrating or getting caught up in the coils. A sturdy protective layer over the coils prevents your mattress from breaking down.
Make a note of how thick the batting is that covers the coils. Is it foam or a natural material like cotton? What is the batting covered with? Is it tufted to prevent shifting? The design is in the details.
A hundred years ago, this is where mattress layers stopped, but it beats sleeping on ancient pea straw. Today's mattresses, however, provide many luxury layers to ensure a good night's sleep.
After the basic batting-covered innersprings, some sort of foam comes next. Polyurethane or latex — synthetic or natural? You'll pay more for natural materials, but they can last longer. Thickness is personal. The thicker the foam, the softer the surface — even on a firm mattress.
Premium mattress manufacturers add a thick layer of wool because they say it regulates body temperatures better than foam — keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter.
The outside layers can be whiz-bang pretty and confuse you even more, but consider that the final upholstery layer will be covered with bedding.
Look for handles. Sturdy and hopefully two handles on each side make flipping a heavy mattress easier. Natural materials breathe better than synthetics. Large quilt patterns are cushier than tight quilt patterns.
To pillow-top or not
Shoppers are trending away from the importance of an attached pillow-top and looking for the firm or soft characteristics that they prefer by adding a detached foam, gel foam or feather topper to their liking, customizing their own sleep experience.
New box spring or no
A box spring is generally a wood frame with basic wire inside. They don't vary much. There is lot of talk in the industry about replacing the box spring — called a foundation — or not. You might find little difference between a new box spring and the one you already own.
Check details. Spend your money on the top mattress.